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Challenges and Demands for Change in Global Governance Systems


Although global governance systems have been on the rise and can be seen in many different areas like health and security, the system of global governance is limited in effectiveness due to certain challenges and problems that are a part of the system. These challenges are related to internal tensions, such as, lack of democratic deficit, as well as external tensions, such as, lack of agreement on common core values that would be the premise of the global governance system (Cottier, 2009; Weber, 2010). There is also the problem of monopoly of hegemony of a few powerful states that so not allow a true global government (Woods, et al., 2013). Due to such internal and external tensions, there are demands for change of the current system of global governance to make it more inclusive and effective. The demand for change also lead in some cases to a decline of some current global governance arrangements.


Serious doubts about the efficacy of the global governance system were raised by Murphy (2000) who argued that because the global governance system seeks to coexist with the notion of state sovereignty, it has at best provided a piecemeal approach that was careful to not overstep its boundaries and interfere with the idea of state sovereignty. Murphy (2000) also argues that global governance is a poor answer to moral questions on good governance and it is likely to remain inefficient, especially in the contexts of driving equitable distribution of resources and protection of human rights. While this may be an extreme position on the efficacy of global governance, it would be correct to say that to some extent it is true because global governance system or the many systems that make global governance, are limited in achieving efficiency due to some serious challenges, including the absence of common core values amongst nations as well as the absence of true equality amongst states even in most institutions related to global governance, such as the International Monetary Fund and the UN Security Council. This essay discusses the current system of global governance as well as the lack of effectiveness of the system and some recommendations for change.

Global governance: Meaning and current systems

The concept of global governance has been defined as an “order, characterized in part by porous borders and power sharing amongst states, non-state actors, and new geographic and/or functional entities” (Winchester, 2009, p. 22). Thus, the meaning of global governance is related to the world order in which governance systems of

different nations conflate in some ways and there is a system of collective efforts of governance that involve governments as well as non-state actors. The system of global governance is a response to worldwide problems that cannot be resolved by any one state and which need the efforts of different states and entities (Weiss & Thakur, 2006). Therefore, global governance as a system envisages a multi-layered approach to governance where different mechanisms and not just the traditional state mechanisms are used to address governance related issues.

Global governance has been described as a possible successor to the Treaty of Westphalia (Falk, 2002, p. 345). This description may have the following implication:

just as the Treaty of Westphalia is considered to be the benchmark for the emergence of the modern national sovereignty system, global governance may be considered to be a concept that makes an important shift in the system. Indeed, there are certain core state functions, where global governance may not provide an answer to increase of effectiveness of the performance of such functions, however, there are others where global governance has the potential to enhance the effectiveness of the performance of such functions. An example of the former can include law and order, defence, disaster management in the event of epidemics or natural disasters, addressing needs of education, economic prosperity, and infrastructure building, to name a few (Koenig-Archibugi, 2002). However, the inability of states to provide effective addressing of all issues related to these core tasks or the possibility of providing a more effective system with collaborative efforts leads to the potential for global governance. Global governance can be seen in the ways in which ‘governance arrangements’ are formulated as between states and other entities allowing interaction between different actors that are in pursuit of common goals (Koenig-Archibugi, 2002).

There are certain elements of global governance that may be discussed here to provide an insight into the core themes of the concept of global governance. These core themes are as follows. First, there is a sense of the difficulties that will be involved in future regulatory problems to be addressed by individual states for which there is a need for broader and more collective decision-making. Such collective decision making encompasses the roles of not just the states but also non-governmental organizations, private businesses, and the civil society. Second, there is an issue of absence of hierarchical structures in the international level as well as the problem of lack of adequate responses to the new and complex global problems. Third, and importantly, the ongoing processes of globalisation and integration pose challenges for the traditional notion of state sovereignty and increases the importance of authorities and actors other than the state. Global governance system seeks to also maintain legitimacy of sovereign state action “by leveraging it through joint action, for example, by including non-governmental agencies, technical communities and academics into the decision-making process” (Weber, 2010, p. 692). Global governance has already been seen in the areas of finance, security, health, and migration (Woods, et al., 2013). Global governance in the current period is manifested in the governance arrangements as well as the different institutional forms that see states collaborate with each other and even non state actors in the context of specific governance issues (Koenig-Archibugi, 2002). In the next section of this essay, the extent or lack of effectiveness of current system of global governance.

Effectiveness of current system of global governance

Global governance can be effective if it is based on common core values, which is the notion of “shared values upon which common structures and procedures can be solidly built” (Cottier, 2009, p. 650). However, it can be challenging to find common core values at the global level, which becomes an issue for why global governance may not be as effective. Democratic countries around the world have generally agreed on the core values like non-discrimination and equal treatment, which has been useful for laying down the “fundaments for governmental action and rule- making processes at all layers of governance on an equal basis” (Weber, 2010, p. 692). However, other countries may not agree on these common core values, which presents a situation where some countries are on board while others are not, thus compromising the effectiveness of the global governance system. At the most problematic level, it may be seen that some states are simply not willing to perform some of the core functions of the state, such as protection of human rights or providing for education and poverty relief, and this creates a problem for effectiveness of global governance because there is a disagreement amongst state actors about the duties of states (Koenig-Archibugi, 2002). At this point, there is no world authority that can help resolve such differing perceptions about core values amongst state parties, which presents a genuine challenge for the effectiveness of the global governance system. On the other hand, if states could agree on such common core values, some of the difficulties of the concerted action between the states and other entities could be reduced. As noted by one author, “Common values help overcome national barriers in regulating financial markets on the upper levels of global governance while maintaining and respecting the will of civil societies” (Weber, 2010, p. 694).

Common values also help mitigate the problem of a lack of legitimacy related to rulemaking by international organisations as it helps to address the problem of democratic deficit. Therefore, it is important to find such common values before global governance systems can be constructed because such common values help to narrow the democratic deficit that is inherent in the global governance systems. As global governance systems are loose affiliations of states and other entities, a democratic deficit is inevitable because citizens are not involved in the process. In order to address this problem of democratic deficit, what is needed is the development of common fundamental values so that the global governance system is indirectly linked to the collective decisions of members of the states.

The participation of the civil society in the global governance systems is also a way for reducing the democratic deficit and providing more legitimacy to the decisions of the supra-structures that are involved in the global governance system.

It is argued that the current system of global governance can be improved if the principles of pluralism; strengthened multilateral processes and the updating of existing international organisations; and accountability can be adopted as the foundation of the system (Woods, et al., 2013). Pluralism is essential to global governance because global governance requires the concerted action of national, regional and global governance systems (Woods, et al., 2013). However, one of the challenges to pluralism in the context of global governance is the system of hegemony, which is more visible in global arrangements as compared to a genuine pluralism where all states are similarly significant to the global arrangements. Thus, although the ideal type of governance arrangement would see all governments of the world sharing significant roles in the system, what is seen instead is the presence of hegemony, which sees governance being ‘supplied’ by a single public actor (Koenig-Archibugi, 2002).

In Europe however, a more ideal type of global governance model is witnessed where global supranationalism leads to the structures of autonomous bodies to whom governments have delegated legislative, executive, and judicial powers (Koenig-Archibugi, 2002). Other than the European example, there is no other example that can be given of a global arrangement where all states are similarly significant to rule making. Therefore, global arrangements have shown themselves to be not as inclusive as is needed for a genuine global government of states. An example can be taken here of the International Monetary Fund, which has a membership of more than 183 states, but all the states are not similarly situated for the purpose of making rules as the power to create and modify rules is unequally distributed and the voting power of each country depends on its financial contribution to the organisation (Koenig-Archibugi, 2002). Thus, the US and the EU member states control more than half of the votes in the Fund’s executive board, which is disproportionate to the actual population represented by these states, which is less than 10 percent of the whole world. On the other hand, the World Trade Organisation gives equal votes to all member states and a consensus building approach is applied for the making of decisions (Koenig-Archibugi, 2002).

Thus, there are different institutional forms of global arrangements that are effective in the world today and they showcase differing levels of delegation and inclusiveness. Arising from this premise is the challenge to current global governance systems (which like the International Monetary Fund are less inclusive) is the rise of the emerging economies or the global South. The North, especially in the wake of financial crisis of 2008, has reached out to the South more since then, such as through the formulation of the G20, but the South has also held back more and is pursuing bilateral and regional arrangements instead of global arrangements (Woods, et al., 2013). This means that instead of relying on the global arrangements, emerging economies are showing themselves to be more comfortable with the regional or bilateral systems. To some extent the problem may be that emerging economies believe that it is to their strategic good that they should take this approach (Woods, et al., 2013). The reform of global governance may be needed to make emerging economies attracted to global governance system; such reform is needed in the UN Security Council, which gives disproportionate powers to the permanent members and devalues the decisions of the General Assembly, which are more indicative of international consensus (Held, 2004 ). The Security Council has come under increasing criticism for its failure to address human rights violations, such as in Rwanda, Somalia and Yugoslavia, which points at the failure of the Security Council as a global governance institution to be effective as per the mandate of the UN Charter (Wilkinson, 2005 ). This criticism brings to the fore the need to make the Security Council more aligned to the global government model, which is inclusive, rather than the hegemony that is allowed to the permanent members through the veto powers given to them.

The current global governance system does not accommodate the developing countries’ negotiating powers, which is required to change the system and make it more effective (Held, 2004 ). Indeed, Held (2004) argues for the development of social democracy to make the system of global governance more effective. On similar lines, Koenig-Archibugi and Zürn (2006) argues for change in the global governance systems to bring about more delegation and more inclusion. (Wilkinson, 2005 ). At the same time, there is a need to guard against the possibility that the globalisation project, which is related to global governance does not lead to unregulated economic activity that increases destitution and poverty in the developing as well as developed economies instead of bridging the gap between the rich and the poor (Murphy, 2000). Indeed, it is argued with good reason that the current global governance system is morally insufficient because it has failed to distribute resources equitably, protect human rights, prevent genocides, and prevent powerful countries from taking action that impacts the interests of the weaker countries (Murphy, 2000).

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To conclude this essay, it can be reiterated that global governance system is yet to achieve efficiency. At this time, there are some significant challenges that prevent the global governance system to be effective. States are not equally placed in some of the institutions like the IMF and the Security Council. There is hegemony instead of state equality in making of decisions in such institutions. At the same time, the emerging economies are rising and becoming more essential for there to be successful global governance systems. They are however looking at bilateral and regional measures instead of global ones to form collaborative intergovernmental and supra national institutions. In order to attract such emerging economies, it is essential that the current systems are reformed. This can be done by making systems more inclusive, public and delegative.


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Falk, R., 2002. Revisiting Westphalia, Discovering Post-Westphalia. Journal of Ethics , 6(4), p. 311.

Held, D., 2004 . Global Covenant: The Social Democratic Alternative to the Washington Consensus. Cambridge : Polity Press.

Koenig-Archibugi, M., 2002. Mapping Global Governance. In: D. Held & A.

McGrew, eds. Governing Globalization. Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 46-69.

Koenig-Archibugi, M. & Zürn, M., 2006. New Modes of Governance in the Global System. Houndmills : Palgrave.

Murphy, C., 2000. Global Governance: Poorly done and Poorly Understood. International Affairs, 76(4), pp. 789-804.

Weber, R. H., 2010. Multilayered Governance In International Financial Regulation And Supervision. Journal of International Economic Law , 13 (3), p. 683–704.

Weiss, T. G. & Thakur, R., 2006. The UN and Global Governance: An Idea and Its Prospects. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Wilkinson, R., 2005 . The Global Governance Reader. London: Routledge.

Winchester, N. B., 2009. Emerging Global Environmental Governance. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies , 16(1), p. 7.

Woods, N., Betts, A., Prantl, J. & Sridhar, D., 2013. Transforming Global Governance for the 21st Century, New York : UNDP, Human Development Report Office Occasional Paper 2013/09.

Zürn, M., 2018 . Contested Global Governance. In: Global Policy, vol. 9, no. 1. s.l.:s.n., p. 138–145.

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